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How AI Could Shorten the Work Week

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) transformation, the question is not if, but when Generative AI (GenAI) technology will streamline how work across every industry is undertaken.

From roles in software development and marketing to creative roles, GenAI tools are automating how professionals and companies conduct research, upskill employees, forecast trends, and analyze large amounts of data.

As professionals increasingly leverage both proprietary and open-source AI tools to get the job done, time spent on routine tasks will be freed up.

This will allow employees to focus on more strategic work and learn new skills, and some have started talking about a potentially shorter work week thanks to AI-aided time savings.


Shifting to a Shorter Work Week

Dux Raymond Sy, chief brand officer at AvePoint, says while the concept of a shorter work week is promising – by way of improving how employees balance their professional and personal lives – implementing this structure in the near term is not realistic.

"From an operational perspective, such a shift involves overhauling how your company functions, requiring a realignment of key timelines, team responsibilities, and collaboration with external stakeholders," he says.

Additionally, this shift requires companies to bolster security measures.

"As employees lean on third party tools or open-source AI generators to get their work done, organizations need to make sure they have specific security measures in place, so proprietary information is never leaked," Sy explains.

Meike Escherich, associate research director, European Future of Work for IDC Europe, says implementing Gen AI should be seen not just as an opportunity for operational efficiency but as a chance to augment the human worker.

He says internal research suggests many large European large businesses will begin use Gen AI to augment process automation.

"This will double desk worker productivity and--here is the important bit--free up time to focus on higher value activities," he says. "So, even though using Gen AI will save time spend on mundane, repetitive tasks, successful companies will use the time gained to create value-add – instead of sending employees home.

From Escherich's perspective, this requires long term changes to role definitions and skills but will also create the highest return on investment.


AI's Transformational Workforce Impact

Muddu Sudhakar, CEO and co-founder at Aisera, agrees AI will have a transformational impact on the workforce.

"So far this has been about automating particular tasks – not necessarily job roles," he says. "However, this will change in the coming years. Basically, there will be certain ones that will be phased out."

He says during a recent trip to India, he started to see this change already in areas where AI can automate much of the tasks.

"There have been cuts in categories like database administrators, paralegals, writers of documentation and so on," he says. "For employers, the approach has not been to reduce the workweek."

He explains if they can eliminate a job, they will do so to lower costs and be more competitive.

"Because of this, I’m skeptical that there will somehow be a move to a different work week, unless this is part of a government mandate," Sudhakar says.

He adds employers will probably not be inclined to provide full salaries to employees that are working substantially less--it would probably be easier for them to eliminate positions.

"It’s important to note that in prior technological revolutions – say with agriculture, industrialization and information – there have been dramatic productivity gains but never a situation where people work less," he points out. "The irony is that there is often more work that needs to be done."


Adjusting Mindsets, Operations

Gartner Analyst Emily Rose McRae when one looks at history, there haven't been any major leaps in productivity due to technology leading to less work – instead, the standard for productivity simply increases at the same pace.

"AI-driven improvements may make it easier for employers to offer more flexibility in when or how much people work in terms of reducing the number of hours worked in a week," she says.

She points out the productivity impact of AI is going to vary significantly from organization to organization depending on the use cases deployed, how customized the solutions are, the scale of its implementation, and the volume of work impacted.

"A four day work week--or three days, if employers are so inclined--requires some adjustments in both mindset and operations," McRae adds. "A surprising number of internal systems for scheduling, payroll, and project management have hard coded assumptions built in for the number of hours someone works in a day or the number of days a week someone works."

She suggests employers can start having conversations with their vendors to move these parameters into fields that they can control and input.

There’s also a question of whether the four days should be shared across the workforce (meaning everyone works the same four days) or staggered – sharing makes collaboration easier and reduces the potential for employees to feel pressured to work on their additional day off.

"Staggered allows employers to guarantee 24 hour or 5-days-a-week coverage if that is a priority," McRae says.

From her perspective, the bigger shift is that in a four day work week, employees are more productive, but employers have less time with them.

"Employers will need to shift the cadence of the work week, thinking through what activities happen when," she says. "When will collaboration happen, when will independent work happen, and how can executives help managers make better decisions about how employee time is spent?"

She points out this is something employers should be working on already, especially if they ask employees who could otherwise work remotely to come onsite on a regular basis.

"Be intentional about what kinds of work are expected when, to get the most out of employees’ time," she says.